The Kashmir has been a hot topic for national media and citizens alike for the better part of this year. And with the passage of time and drop in TRPs, breaking stories often get sidelined.
As a country, we aggressively defend Kashmir as an integral and inherent part of our country against the claims of our neighbour. But do the Kashmiri people find space for the political aspirations? They’re usually sidelined in the tug-of-war between India & Pakistan.
Geographically speaking, it is the northernmost state of India. Ethnically, Kashmir includes the area between the Greater Himalayas & the Pir Panjal mountains, widely known as ‘the Vale of Kashmir or the Kashmir Valley’. In broader political terms, however, Kashmir is considered as a combination of the areas administered by the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, along with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) & area occupied by China (Aksai-Chin).
Kashmiris are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group of Dardic origin, that moved the valley centuries ago. They’re believed to be direct descendants of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel & distinct from ethnicity pertaining to India or Pakistan.
Background of Kashmir & Article 370
After the separation of India & Pakistan in August 1947, Pakistan demanded Maharaja Hari Singh (the then Hindu ruler of the princely state of Kashmir with a Muslim majority population) to join Pakistan.
However, the Maharaja declined the demand and decided to not join either of the countries and chose to keep Kashmir an independent state. When the western districts of Kashmir experienced uprisings & tribal militia from the neighbouring Northwest Frontier Province invaded Kashmir, the Maharaja turned to India for help.
The Indian armed forces intervened to help fend off the invasion, after the treaty of ‘Instrument of Accession’ was signed by Maharaja with India. The United Nations brought about a ceasefire in 1948 & demanded a plebiscite after certain conditions were met. The plebiscite has not taken place till date, with both India & Pakistan fighting several wars over Kashmir. Under article 370 of the Indian constitution that came into force in 1950, the state of Jammu & Kashmir was granted special autonomy.
Ideally, the traditional princely state of Kashmir has to be divided into 6 regions i.e.
1) Indian-administered areas of Jammu, Kashmir Valley & Ladakh;
2) Pakistan-occupied areas of Azad Kashmir & Northern Areas of Gilgit & Baltistan.
3) China-occupied area of Aksai Chin
The estimated population in the Indian-administered areas of
Jammu: Approximately 55 lakhs
66% Hindu majority, 30% Muslims (of which 65% are Shia Muslims) & 4% other tribes;
Kashmir Valley: Approximately 70 lakhs
70% Sunni Muslims, 20% mountain tribes, 10% Hindus & Sikhs;
Ladakh: Approximately 3 lakhs
45% Buddhists, 10% Hindus & 30% Shia Muslims.
The estimated population in the Pakistan-occupied regions of
Azad Kashmir is approximately 46 lakhs with 99% Muslims;
Gilgit-Baltistan is approximately 18 lakhs, with 99% Muslims.
There are no official records available on the population or demographics of China occupied Aksai Chin. Also, it is unlikely that the UN will be able to hold a plebiscite in this region.
Right To Self Determination:
According to the ceasefire brokered by UN in 1948, a plebiscite is the only final solution to the Kashmir dispute. In fact, under the UN charter, nations that are created on the basis of respect for the principle of equal rights & fair opportunities, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference. In line with the charter, the Kashmiris deserve the ‘right to self-determination’.
What do the Kashmiris want? Who would they want to join?
As pointed out in the demographics of the Indian-administered region, the Jammu & Ladakh regions have pro-India aspirations. Both these regions have pro-India Shia Muslims, whose counterparts are supposedly ill-treated in Sunni-dominated Pakistan.
In the Kashmir valley, the mountain tribes that form the 20% and Hindu-Sikhs that form 10% have pro-India sentiments. It’s the 70% Sunni Muslims who either have pro-Pakistan or pro-independence aspirations. Among them, a modest 20-25% wish to join Pakistan, 10-15% demand Azadi (Independence), and the remaining 55-60% are the moderate voices, who would choose India in exchange for greater autonomy.
The situation in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is a bit complex, because, over a period of 70 years, the demographics have been altered. In an event of a plebiscite, a modest approximation of around 50-55% would choose India over Pakistan, given the widespread human rights abuses that have been carried on in the Northern areas & parts of Azad Kashmir. However, whether Azad (Independent) Kashmir would choose to stay with Pakistan or join India, is still debatable.
In the case of a region-based plebiscite, if the Kashmir Valley chooses Azadi (independence) from India, then we might just have to live with it.